Baseline to Baseline recaps: One half of Heat bests half of Spurs

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What you missed while buying the paintings of a squirrel

Heat 120, Spurs 98: It was a tale of two halves. In the first half the Spurs controlled the tempo and forced the heat into the half court. LeBron James, fighting a cold that might have kept him home if Dwyane Wade could have played, was sloppy. Not just missed shots but slowed and bad decisions — where he normally attacks he hesitated. San Antonio shot 67 percent in the first quarter and were up 14 at the half.

And then it flipped. Miami stepped up its defensive pressure and the Spurs offense stalled. Then the Heat turned those stops in to fast break opportunities. Then LeBron James’ jumper started falling — he knocked down three from beyond the arc and outscored the Spurs 17 to 10 that quarter. The Spurs shot 34.4 percent in the second half. LeBron had 33 points and looked like his old self, Chris Bosh had 30.

There are still questions for the Heat about the severity of Wade’s injury and late game execution, but when they overwhelm a team it is an impressive site.

Magic 96, Bobcats 89: Charlotte hung in this one — they were up three at the break and it was tied heading into the fourth — as the Bobcats didn’t double Dwight Howard and stuck with guys on the perimeter, and Orlando could only knock down 31.8 percent of its threes (Howard’s foul trouble didn’t help). Orlando needs those threes. It eventually got them. While Dwight Howard led the way with 25 points on the night it was Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Von Wafer — yes, Von Wafer — who each had 8 points in the fourth quarter to help the Magic pull away.

Warriors 105, Cavaliers 95: The Cleveland Cavaliers turned the ball over on 25 of their 101 possessions — essentially one in four trips down the court they coughed it up without a shot. Hard to win games that way. Very hard. Kyrie Irving showed flashes of quality play but he had six turnovers. Antwan Jamison led a third quarter charge by the Cavs with his dozen, but he could not cover David Le, who had 29, 13 of them in the fourth quarter when the Cavs pulled away. Anderson Varejao had no answers for Lee either, who pulled out a few good post moves to put the game away. As an aside, this was an “on” night for Nate Robinson who had 17 points and 10 dimes.

Nuggets 105, Bucks 95: The Bucks can lose at home. Denver pretty much controlled this one from the start and only a big fourth quarter run by Milwaukee made it this close. Denver attacked from the start and got to the line 37 times on the night (23 more free throws than Milwaukee). The Bucks got 30 from Brandon Jennings but Stephen Jackson and Andrew Bogut combined to shoot 1-of-11.

Rockets 97, Pistons 80: I’m not sure the Rockets were good so much as just less bad. The attacked and moved the ball and shot 49 percent. The Pistons were more passive (their first free throw didn’t come until midway through the third quarter). Tayshaun Prince had 20 but the Rockets had six guys in double figures — balance won out.

Bulls 118, Suns 97: Derrick Rose was out again and Steve Nash tried to take advantage with 13 points in the first quarter as he and the Suns tried to pick up the tempo. But the Bulls just ground the Suns down (while shooting 69 percent early themselves). The Suns shot 37 percent in the second quarter while Carlos Boozer got hot (26 in the first half, 31 for the game) and it was over. Chicago pulled away and never looked back.

Jazz 108, Clippers 79: The Clippers were on the second night of a road back-to-back without Chris Paul or Mo Williams — this set up well for the Clippers to fall flat, and they didn’t disappoints. Credit the Jazz for taking advantage of this and blowing the Clippers out, taking charge early with an 11-0 run and just stretching it out most of the rest of the game. The Clippers starters sat the fourth. Paul Millsap had 20 for Utah. Not much to take away from this other than another a win the Jazz will add to the collection.

Cavaliers were clutch all season, then again in it’s biggest moment

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The Cleveland Cavaliers had the point differential of a 43-39 team this season, just a couple of games above .500. Yet they finished the season 50-32, seven games better than their differential suggested — the highest variance in the NBA.

Why? Because LeBron James and the Cavaliers were clutch. In games that were within five points in the final five minutes this season, Cleveland was 30-15 with a +18.2 points per 100 net rating (second best in the NBA, behind Houston).

That has carried over to the playoffs, where the Cavaliers came into Game 7 Sunday night 6-1 in clutch games with an insane +36.2 per 100.

Game 7 was another clutch one — it was 76-72 Cleveland with five minutes to go — and once again the Cavaliers won, advancing to the NBA Finals. This is the fourth straight year for this team, and the eighth year in a row for LeBron to make it to the NBA’s biggest stage.

In the final five minutes of Game 7, LeBron had six points, while the Boston Celtics team had 7. When we say the Cavaliers are clutch, it all starts with LeBron (as do all things Cavaliers at this point).

“He craves those moments. He loves those moments,” Kyle Korver said after LeBron was clutch in the Cavaliers’ Game 6 win that set up Sunday’s showdown, but what he said applies now, too. “When the game’s on the line, when the season’s on the line, he’s been rising up. That’s what the great players do.”

LeBron accepts that challenge, and through the postseason he has had an impressive 58 true shooting percentage, with a ridiculous 44.3 percent usage rate. Bottom line, he has had to carry the Cavaliers in the clutch, and he has done so efficiently.

“I’m the leader of this team, and I’m going to give what I’ve got,” LeBron said. “My teammates, they respect that.”

It’s going to take more than clutch LeBron and friends to win in the Finals — both of the teams in the West are much tougher than anything the Cavaliers have seen so far. However, we know that LeBron is going to give everything he has left.

And if the game is close late, don’t bet against the Cavaliers.

 

 

 

Jayson Tatum throws down epic dunk on LeBron James (VIDEO)

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The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers held a barnburner of a Game 7 on Sunday, with Boston’s Jayson Tatum going head-to-head with LeBron James.

For his part, LeBron was everything we expected in a Game 7. The King played spectacularly, willing his Cavaliers squad to yet another NBA Finals appearance as Cleveland edged Boston.

But before things were sealed, and the game decided, Tatum got off a raucous dunk right in James’ eye that made many wonder if the torch was on the cusp of being passed.

The play came with 6:45 left in the fourth quarter with Tatum driving down the lane and LeBron moving over to help recover on defense. It would have been easy to anticipate another big LeBron playoff block, but Tatum continued his surprising season by dunking all over The King.

Via Twitter:

Cleveland won the game, 87-79, but Tatum’s dunk on the big stage is just one of many reasons why the Celtics are going to be a complete hassle next year when they’re back to being fully healthy.

LeBron James is the greatest player of all-time

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He’s done it again. LeBron James, the King in the East, played 48 minutes en route to his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance after beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 at TD Garden on Sunday, 87-79.

Bow down to the greatest player of all-time.

Much has been made of LeBron’s place in history as his legacy has began to galvanize toward the end of his career. The conversation has raged on about LeBron vs. Michael Jordan, or Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Preference varies greatly between fans, while some still pick the centrist route and say there’s no simple way to compare across eras. There’s been mathematical attempts to rank the two, and even MJ’s old teammates have said LeBron is a more complete player.

On Sunday, James bounced yet another Eastern Conference Finals opponent, carrying his teammates on his shoulders and playing without All-Star Kevin Love. There was never a doubt for many watching Sunday’s matchup in Massachusetts. Before the final buzzer, LeBron had won 23 straight Eastern Conference playoff series. His determination was absolute, and the cards were always stacked against Boston even given their postseason record at home.

You could sort of just see it coming.

James was the motivating force in the first half for Cleveland, scoring 17 points while no other teammates tallied in double digits. The Cavaliers shot an abysmal 12 percent from beyond the arc, and the Celtics looked like they would be able to control the rest of the game as the crowd at home motivated them forward.

But Cleveland came roaring back in the second half, continuing to put on a defensive show, the kind we would not have expected of them during the regular season. Without Love, the Cavs had to make do with Jeff Green, who turned in a surprising performance. Green scored 19 points, shot 50 percent from the field, and grabbed eight rebounds.

In the face of a strengthening Cavaliers attack, the Celtics seems to retreat. Boston’s final offensive possessions in the fourth quarter were hectic, slow, and unsuccessful. While the Cavaliers tried their hardest during the final eight minutes to get Al Horford switched on to LeBron in isolation sets, the Celtics surprisingly mirrored the same offensive tactics. Instead of playing their regular offense, or running plays to get shooters free, or trying to attack the paint against James (who was in foul trouble) Boston resorted to trying to exploit any mismatches found through Cleveland’s switches.

The result was four field goals inside the 3-point line for LeBron in the fourth quarter, as much as the entire Celtics roster combined.

The play of the game came with 1:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers leading by nine. LeBron was out on the break, with Marcus Morris trailing behind him. Morris went to foul LeBron, making no obvious attempts on the ball as he grabbed onto the Cavaliers star’s shoulders. Even with all of his might, Morris couldn’t stop James from scoring while drawing the foul. It was indicative of the entire fourth quarter for the Celtics, who scraped, clutched and grabbed as much as they could but did not have an answer for LeBron.

So here we are, with LeBron having won another Game 7 out in the Eastern Conference as he heads to another Finals. He probably won’t match Jordan’s championship mark. But Jordan didn’t match Russell’s. Or Horry’s. Or Havlichek’s, either.

Instead, we have to rely on what we see in front of our eyes combined with their dominance, weighted for context. Sunday night’s performance should help push LeBron over Jordan, if he wasn’t there already. James is a more complete player, which has always been apparent, and now he’s survived every challenge that’s been thrown at him. Declaring James the best player of all-time did not come because of Sunday’s game. It’s been years in the making, throughout the entirety of his 15-year career. The win over Boston was just an indication of his place in history.

LeBron has gone nuclear with 40+ point performances. He was part of the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history against the Golden State Warriors. He beat the Indiana Pacers all by himself, in the playoffs, just this very season. James has had a career season at age 33, playing 48 minutes in the 100th game of the 2017-18 season. LeBron has willed his way to yet another NBA Finals, with perhaps his worst team since the 2006-07 squad that was swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the season’s final series. To add to the accomplishment, LeBron pushed this Cavaliers squad past a stunningly good team in the Celtics, on the road, and without Love.

James is the greatest American sports story of our generation, and he’s the best player the NBA has ever seen. If you disagree, that’s OK. But after Sunday night, you’d be hard pressed to convince me otherwise.

Watch Victor Oladipo drive the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 (VIDEO)

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Victor Oladipo is Indiana’s favorite son after the Indiana Pacers guard blasted through the competition during the 2017-18 NBA season.

Oladipo averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and led the league with 2.4 steals per game. Oladipo’s 3-point shooting improved year-over-year, and his VORP skyrocketed in his new leadership role. Many feel the Pacers won the Paul George trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder thanks to Oladipo.

Thanks in part to his stellar play, Oladipo was invited to drive the pace car at the start of the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Turns out he was pretty good at it.

Via Twitter:

Oladipo is apparently going to be honored with the steering wheel from the pace car he drove. No doubt taking part in a classic local sporting event like the Indy 500 will help ingrain Oladipo into the sports fabric in Indianapolis even further.